If one thing did in Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers founder who was found guilty today of seditious conspiracy for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, it was his decision to testify on his own behalf.
Rhodes was on trial with four other Oath Keepers. Kelly Meggs, a member of the far-right militia, was found guilty of seditious conspiracy, while the other three were acquitted of that charge. All five were convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting.
While on the witness stand, Rhodes came across as anything but credible. Federal prosecutors had built a strong case to prove the three components of seditious conspiracy: that there was a conspiracy, forced was used, and the goal was “to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.”
In this case, Rhodes and the Oath Keepers were trying to stop the legal transfer of power to President Joe Biden.
Beginning just two days after the Nov. 3, 2020 election, and continuing for more than two months, Rhodes used encrypted Signal chats with other Oath Keepers to incite violence aimed at preventing Biden from becoming president.
The feds introduced statements by Rhodes from chats and phone calls including:
“We are not getting through this without a civil war. Prepare your mind, body and spirit.”
“It will be a bloody and desperate fight. We are going to have a fight. That can't be avoided.”
"You've got to make sure [Trump] knows that you are willing to die to fight for this country.”
“Either Trump gets off his ass and uses the Insurrection Act to defeat the ChiCom [Chinese Communist] puppet coup or we will have to rise up in insurrection (rebellion) against the ChiCom puppet Biden. Take your pick.”
“We will have to do a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them. That's what's going to have to happen.”
“They won’t fear us until we come with rifles in hand.”
“There is no standard political or legal way out of this.”
Prosecutors then showed Rhodes put his words into actions by recruiting dozens of Oath Keepers, outlining “preparations for the use of force,” and spending about $40,000 on rifles, ammunition, and weapons accessories.
Rhodes even plotted out loud. In December 2020, he published an open letter to the Oath Keepers website “advocating for the use of force to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.” In a second letter in December, Rhodes wrote that “tens of thousands of patriot Americans, both veterans and non-veterans, will already be in Washington, D.C. and many of us will have our mission critical gear stowed nearby just outside D.C.”
That was no idle chatter. In preparation for Jan. 6, the Oath Keepers amassed an arsenal in Virginia guarded by a Quick Reaction Force designated to ferry “heavy weapons,” possibly by boat across the Potomac River, to D.C. if needed.
Days before Jan. 6, Rhodes texted to his co-conspirator Meggs, “We WILL have a QRF. The situation calls for it.”
One Oath Keeper said on the stand of the weapons cache in Virginia, “I had not seen that many weapons in one location since I was in the military.”
Meanwhile, Meggs and other Oath Keepers held trainings before Jan. 6 for “unconventional warfare,” “hasty ambushes,” and to be “fighting fit” by inauguration day.
Against the evidence, Rhodes tried to bamboozle the jury. He claimed the two stacks of Oath Keepers who invaded the Capitol building were “stupid” and had gone off-mission. Rhodes denied knowledge of the Quick Reaction Force. When prosecutors confronted Rhodes with evidence that he texted from his phone telling others to delete incriminating messages, he blamed his girlfriend Kellye SoRelle, who has been separately indicted, for sending the message.
The jury did not buy Rhodes’ explanations, and he further hurt himself when he claimed his real concern was that civil war might break out after Biden was inaugurated. The prosecution jumped on that to note that Rhodes was not denying he wanted to wage war against the government, he was only quibbling over the date when it would happen.
The most farcical moment at the trial belonged to Thomas Caldwell, the Oath Keeper in charge of the QRF arsenal of weapons. The prosecution bolstered evidence for the conspiracy by showing that in November 2020, Caldwell provided “the results of a lengthy ‘recce’ [reconnaissance] trip he had taken into Washington, D.C., and to coordinate planning with Rhodes for an upcoming "op" in Washington, D.C.”
Caldwell was outside the Capitol during the insurrection accompanied by his wife Sharon. She was caught on video during the riots saying, “Congress is gone because they are p*ssies.” When asked about that on the stand, Thomas claimed she really meant that “there was a great opportunity for us to start the healing process in our country.” When asked about his comment about ferrying weapons in a boat across the Potomac River to the Capitol, Caldwell said, it was “creative writing for a screenplay.”
Having succeeded in convicting Rhodes of seditious conspiracy, the next major target is Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, former national chairman of the Proud Boys, who is also charged with seditious conspiracy. Five members of the fascistic street gang have been indicted for seditious conspiracy and their trial is expected to start soon.